Public clocks are not only towering things of beauty, they are icons, meeting places, and keep the city running on time. We speak to Melbourne-based Henry Ekselman, whose company Ingrams Time Systems looks after many of the city’s much-loved clocks.
Started out: Ingrams Time Systems has a history going back to the late 1800s, when it was originally started up by the two Ingram brothers. They were responsible for building famous clocks, like the Catani clock at St Kilda Beach, and the clocks on the front of the Myer building on Bourke Street, Melbourne. My parents bought the company about 50 years ago, and it was run almost as a hobby by my father.
Big break: I went to university and started studying law, and then I decided I didn’t like being a student, so I did other things. I had some camera shops and photographic studios in the city, and then, later on I diversified a bit, into engineering and helping my father out on big clock projects. I had to take the company over when Dad got ill about 30 years back and had to go to hospital for a month. In the first week, I took an order – which was to build the now famous clock at The Rocks in Sydney. It’s a huge tower clock. They wanted a clock as good as gold, and so I built them one as good as gold. It’s a beautiful clock. Since being in charge, I’ve updated the company identity a few times. Originally, I changed the name to Ingrams Clocks, but I kept getting little old ladies ringing up with mantle clocks that didn’t work, and that is not really our area of expertise – we work on the town hall clocks, tower clocks, the big projects. We also make clock systems for schools, government buildings, as well as high-tech systems for the Department of Defence.
Current project: At the moment, we are involved in assessing, surveying and preparing for the restoration of the bells in the GPO clock in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. The catch with these kinds of clocks is, because a lot of people are now living in the city, they don’t want the clocks striking all night. We are still constantly restoring, renovating, serving old well-known town hall clocks. For example, with the GPO clock, our staff wind it up every week. Some poor bugger has to climb four storeys up that tower and wind it up.
Favourite project: One of the projects that has always been close to my heart is the Blackrock clock, on the beach. That was one of the first tower clocks I worked on with my father, about 40 years back. Last month, we just finished some serious work on it, because it was beginning to get corroded by the sea and elements, so the council had a major upgrade to the clock structure and its internal workings.
What’s next? When you build a clock and install it on a building somewhere, no one comes running up and patting you on the back, saying ‘thank-you’. But if you try to take the clock down, or take it away, they get upset. Public clocks become part of our daily lives. That is why there was so much protest when the Nylex clock in Richmond was turned off a few years ago. I’m getting involved with various people to try to work out what we can do to get that clock recommissioned. The lovely thing is, many of the big clocks we build are into structures, and so they are going to be around long after I am dead and gone. These are big, permanent things.
From desktop magazine.
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